Michael Brown is known as a Biblical scholar and as a man who can read the Bible as easily in Hebrew as he can in English ‹ and as a man who is quick to challenge Scriptural interpretations that differ from his.
Whether fielding questions in the Brownsville Revival advocacy chat room on the Internet, writing a book that harshly denounces revival critics or dealing with Brownsville Revival School of Ministry employees, Brown takes charge.
The portrait of Brown, 43, that emerges from numerous interviews with people who know him now and people who were close to him in the past is of a highly intelligent, ambitious, arrogant man who plays a minor role on stage at the revival but who commands the major role off stage. He is credited with charting the revival's successful moves and is often described as the "brain" behind the Brownsville phenomenon.
Dale Crow, youth director at First United Methodist Church of Pace, calls Brown "the spin doctor at Brownsville."
Crow has never met Brown in person but communicated with Brown for weeks via the Internet chat room Brown hosted on Tuesday nights.
Crow regularly raised questions that Brown refused to answer. When Crow pressed for answers, Brown would not allow him to post questions any longer.
Brown declined to participate in a face-to-face interview without conditions, but he did respond to the News Journal's written questions for this series. Brown's comment on the subject of others' views of him was this:
"Because I have strong moral convictions and have often taken clear stands on controversial issues, it is no surprise that I have my share of detractors. It is also no surprise that some of those who differ with me might mistake confidence for arrogance. The truth is that I highly value constructive criticism and input, believing that I can learn from both friend and foe alike. I believe that none of us should be wise in our own eyes (Proverbs 3:7). As for a fair evaluation of my character, I believe that those who have worked with me day and night through the years know me the best, and none of them would agree with the negative assessments you cite."
Dick Reuben, a Messianic Jew who taught at Brownsville Assembly of God for two years before the revival and worked closely with the revival until September 1997, when he left without explanation, described Brown as "a highly motivated, highly intellectual, well-educated man."
"At times he seems aloof, arrogant, self-important, but he is a brilliant man and, like everyone else, he's human. Sometimes, when people get put on a pedestal, it's hard to be humble," Reuben said.
"I have no problem with Michael Brown. I did not leave because of Michael Brown. I just sort of got put into the back of the bus. My role was diminished; I felt my time there was at an end."
Brown's reputation as a scholar and theologian, which the other revival leaders vigorously promote, has added an academic luster to the revival, which has just entered its fourth year of almost non-stop services at Brownsville Assembly of God.
The News Journal has also learned that:
Brown's resume lists a master's degree and a doctorate from New York University, and the school confirms that.
Until the time he came to Brownsville, most of his teaching was at small religious schools that were not state-accredited to award secular degrees. Two were extension schools that have since closed.
Brown's ministry, ICN, reported a deficit of $23,481 for 1996, the most recent IRS tax return available. The public records in Baldwin County, Ala., show that in 1997, ICN purchased 11 acres for $165,000 and obtained a $132,000 mortgage on the land from the seller, Navonod Development Corp.
The wife of a former employee at the revival school, where Brown is president, says she felt that Brown threatened the livelihood of her family in order to force her to recant what Brown regarded as criticism of the revival.
Brown disputes her allegation.
Some who know Brown well say he waited more than a decade for a big, long-running revival. He arrived in Pensacola in 1996 and quickly became a part of the Brownsville Revival inner circle. His book sales have flourished, he has founded and controls the revival's school of ministry and he is among the four revival ministers who have formed a traveling crusade that goes to big cities and holds stadium and arena revivals.
Brown's friends portray him as highly educated and consumed with conveying the message of revival.
A pastor who has known and admired Brown for more than 10 years said that he was sure Brown would head for Pensacola when he heard about the revival here.
"There was no question he would thrive in that environment," said Pastor Walter Healy, who heads the Church of Grace and Peace in Toms River, N.J.
"His whole life experience has been in preparation for a time of revival."
But people who have not had a friendly relationship with Brown see a man who is consumed by the desire to be in control.
Crow, from First United Methodist Church of Pace, describes Brown as a man who will play "only as long as he can set up the rules."
Crow encountered Brown when Brown hosted a Tuesday night Internet chat room on the Brownsville Revival. Crow, 37, said he questioned Brown about two testimonies posted on the revival's Web site. One was from a man who claimed to have been saved at the revival and who renounced his homosexual lifestyle; the other was from Danny Livingston, who was pastor of First Assembly of God in Pensacola.
Crow said that he heard the man who had changed from homosexuality had resumed that lifestyle and had experienced problems resulting from his revival experience.
Livingston resigned from First Assembly of God after he was arrested on suspicion of making harassing phone calls to a woman. That case never went to trial; the woman's husband said an agreement had been reached between the two parties.
Crow said he questioned Brown in the chat room about why the testimonies of those two were still posted when the revival could post testimonies from others "who had met God in an awesome powerful way" at the revival.
Brown refused to answer the questions, Crow said, and finally issued an ultimatum:
"He said, 'I will not address you in the chat room unless you meet with me face to face,' " Crow recalls. "It was like I was summoned for an audience with the pope."
Crow never agreed to a meeting, in part, he said, because Brown refused to allow Crow to bring someone with him to the meeting.
"I have no questions about Dr. Brown as far as his being a Christian, as far as his love for the Lord and his zeal for serving Him," Crow said. "But it's the manner and the mannerisms in which he operates that put a shadow over some of the things he does."
Michael Brown on one of his Leadership Session videos, "The Proof of the Revival, " taped at the Brownsville Revival.
Michael L. Brown Academic Resume